food / travel

Belle Époque Glamor Coming Back To Harrods — In Buenos Aires

Architects plan to restore one of the Argentine capital's architectural gems, but with new co-working and co-living spaces that reflect the latest trends.

Harrods in Buenos Aires
Harrods in Buenos Aires
Karina Niebla

BUENOS AIRES Entering Harrods — the luxury store in Buenos Aires, not London — one feels as one might have felt boarding the Titanic. The comparison is not far-fetched: both were built with British capital, and before World War I. And just like the Titanic, the Buenos Aires store also displays the plush splendor of the Belle Époque, still alive today: with ample spaces, a carousel on the second floor, countless lamps, typewriters and chairs, and the use of materials like cast iron, marble, bronze and oak that are meant to last.

The Buenos Aires Harrods, closed for over two decades, is no longer just a memory. It is set for a full restoration and a revival as a department store, but with a contemporary touch. The new space is to include gourmet eateries, apartments and offices with public terraces. The traditional barber shop, which remains one of the building's best-preserved sections, will be opened up again. The restoration project, which is being reviewed by the city government and waiting for approval, would last over three years and cost $60 million. The building is also up for sale.

Harrods opened here in 1914 occupying an entire block in the city center, the only foreign branch of the London department store founded in 1849. After decades of splendor and some decadence, it closed in 1998. Several revival plans over the years failed to prosper.

Today there is renewed movement inside: cleaning, plumbing and initial repairs to "certain elements of great architectural value," says chief restorer Ángel Piccolo. These are necessary maintenance measures for a building that is more than a century old, with seven floors, a basement and a total surface of 48,000 square meters.

The Buenos Aires store also displays the plush splendor of the Belle Époque.

Thousands of miles away in New York, a U.S. fund is negotiating the building's purchase through the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Sources close to the store's historic owners say a deal is imminent. A restoration project has been presented to the city government, consisting of a mixed-use plan that follows the city's new Urban Development Code. It is to be carried out by architect Rodolfo Miani of Bodas-Miani-Anger Architects, in partnership with Norman Foster.

According to the plans, the premises will contain the department store, as well as boutiques and a food market on the lower floors. On the upper floors there are plans for facilities like co-working but also co-living spaces and terrace gardens, which will be open to the public. A traditional barber shop and beauty salon in the basement have been perfectly preserved and will resume activity.

A good deal of the exterior was restored in 2015, under Piccolo's supervision. Unfortunately, thieves have since tried to steal bronze sculptures from the building front and windows have been broken. The exterior is now protected by a metal screen and a security agent.

Several restoration projects were proposed soon after the store closed. In 2003, there were plans to install 80 luxury brand outlets inside the building, with a café and a bookstore. In 2011, the Financial Times reported the store would reopen if a UK investment fund were to close a $280-million deal. And in 2012, there was an idea to create a shopping mall dedicated to the LGBTI community.

None of these projects prospered, in part because of the ups and downs of the Argentine economy. Paradoxically, the peso's latest devaluation has made the building an attractive investment option, and may contribute to a definitive recovery of this architectural emblem in Buenos Aires.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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